Ex-Israeli Army Chief Benny Gantz, Considered Top Netanyahu Challenger, Launches Political Party

Polls predict Gantz will garner up to 16 seats in the Knesset, positioning him as a threat to Netanyahu, who brushes off move by saying he 'doesn't interfere with how left divides votes'

Ex-Israeli military chief of staff Benny Gantz visiting Israeli naval vessels at the end of his term, 2014.
IDF Spokesperson's Unit

Former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz launched his own political party on Thursday after it was announced earlier this week that the governing Israeli coalition is dissolving and that Israel is set to go to elections on April 9.

Gantz has named his party Hosen L'Yisrael (i.e. resilience for Israel).

The ex-IDF chief stated that his party's goals are "to continue strengthening the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic country in light of the Zionist vision as it expressed in the Declaration of Independence, while defining and changing national priorities regarding the following subjects: Education, the development of national infrastructures, agriculture, law, national security, welfare and peace."

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Polls published Tuesday by the Israel Television News Company predict that Gantz's party will garner 10 to 16 seats in the Knesset. However, according to the surveys, should Gantz join the Yesh Atid party or the Zionist Union, he would gain 25 to 26 seats.

Gantz, who served as the chief of staff between 2011 to 2015, is expected to brand his new party as centrist, moderate and responsible, and has no desire to be associated with the Israeli left.

He is perceived as a significant challenger for Netanyahu in the upcoming election, slated for April 9. Later Thursday, when asked during a briefing to the media what he thought about Gantz launching his own party, the prime minister said he "does not interfere in how the left divides its votes."

The former chief of the Israeli military has been in contact in recent weeks with ex-Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon. The two are reportedly discussing the option of running together in the upcoming elections; Ya'alon announced Tuesday that he, too, is launching his own party but they are expected to run together under the same list.

Ya'alon views his former deputy as a significant potential ally. Gantz has made it clear that he is not interested in joining existing parties. However, he is not ruling out the option of joining people who are not currently serving in the Knesset such as Ya'alon or independent lawmaker Orly Levi-Abekasis, who in March announced that she was setting up her own party.

Noa Landau contributed to this report.